The Arabs needed a spring but Nigerians might need an ocean.
Corruption has unfortunately found its home in Nigeria; leaders who remain opaque in their dealings with citizens and a democratic government without democracy have taken center stage in the nation. A sad tale indeed but so was the story a couple of years ago in a number of Arab nations, however, the world is witnessing a starling thing, a situation in which the citizens of nations that have suffered in the hands of their government have risen up to say ENOUGH!
A revolution has begun in a faraway part of the world but one has to wonder how far away it would remain. Nigerians are gradually beginning to tire from unfulfilled promises and misuse of their resources; people are slowly but surely saying enough. Two issues are currently intensifying their resolve: mounting civil unrest over the removal of a long-standing subsidy on petroleum products, and a sustained insurgency led by radical Islamist terrorists.
51 years ago, Nigeria fought for its independence; some might say it was an easy battle as there was hardly any bloodshed in the bid to gain our independence. It was more a war of words and intelligence than of fists and guns. However, 51 years later, its daunting to say that we might to fight another battle to gain another form of freedom or this could just be wishful thinking on my part to believe there’s any good left, worth fighting for.
The political system in the country structurally mirrors that of the United States but its reality casts a cloud of doubt on the likeness. News of politicians embezzling public funds, government officials awarded contracts for projects that never get to see the light of day.
Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of crude oil among the OPEC nations. Yet, the average Nigerian has not benefited in any way from the abundance of this natural resource in our country. Contrary to some claims, the price of crude oil is higher in Nigeria than almost any other member nation of OPEC.
Most houses are powered by generators that use fuel or diesel despite the alleged billions of dollars that have been spent on providing electricity in the country. Transportation is at abysmal stage in Nigeria because there is virtually no rail transport and no economy can grow without that. People and goods are transported mostly by road thereby depending on the consumption of fossil fuels.
With all these in place, the present government called for the removal of subsidy from fuel. The Minister of Finance has argued that Nigeria spends exorbitantly on importing fuel from overseas and the country may go bankrupt in few years if the subsidy is not rescinded. First of all, the sixth largest producer of crude oil acknowledges the fact that fuel is imported and that it sells it higher than some of the countries that buys the raw material.
There are indeed strong economic reasons for removing the subsidy, which cost the Nigerian government more than $8 billion last year. The government has pledged to put the money saved towards infrastructure projects and development programs. Yet past experiences have made citizens wary of government pledges as they worry that the subsidy removal will only line the pockets of Nigeria’s venal politicians.
While people were still coming to grasp with the possibility of the removal of fuel subsidy as the moved into a New Year, the president gave the go ahead and the subsidy was removed on New Year’s Day. In a matter of days, fuel prices skyrocketed, increasing by as much as 116%. Nigerians, the majority of whom live on less than two dollars a day, are now unable to afford fuel for cooking or transportation.
What followed this was just as surprising as in a joint effort with labor, Nigerians embarked on a nationwide strike to protest the removal. Surprising because it’s rare to see Nigerians united on an issue; in a country with hundreds of distinct ethnic groups and little sense of national identity, citizens rarely rally around a common cause. The sudden inability to procure fuel for basic needs such as transportation, however, inspired Nigerians of all stripes to take to the streets en masse.
Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets as the strike prevented economic activity in major cities. Now the strike has been called off and though it was able to accomplish 95 naira per liter, the question to ask is if this was indeed a victory.
The fuel subsidy removal is just one of the many things government needs to be held accountable for. Moving on to security, government has its hands full. Regional crises ranging from ethnic to religious crises invade our media daily and so far the government with its security forces has been largely unable to contain them. From violence that has political undertones to the indiscriminate killing of civilians by ‘stray bullets’ from police officers, one tends to hope for little.
Despite a significant increase in security measures – including house-to-house searches for weapons in some cities – bomb blasts and gun battles persist in Nigeria’s north. The insurgency shows little signs of abating with near-daily operations such as robbing banks, public bombings; an example is the Christmas day saga. On Christmas day, the sect set off bombs in two churches leading the President to declare state of emergency in the north.
A report by the Human Rights Watch found that the government’s failure to tackle local-level corruption violates Nigeria’s obligation to provide basic health and education services to its citizens. Also, Local government officials in Nigeria’s wealthiest oil-producing state have squandered rising revenues that could provide basic health and education services for some of Nigeria’s poorest people. As there has been no visible improvement since then till now, it is safe to say that those records are still viable in these present days.
Will terrorism and civil unrest be catalysts that send Nigeria the way of Egypt, Libya, or Tunisia?
Nigerians suffer from many of the underlying socio-economic problems that helped to bring about regime change in the Middle East and North Africa through violent revolution. Nigeria has escaped a similar fate; however the Nigerian government might need to watch its back more closely and as there really is something like ENOUGH.
This article was written by Bunmi Obanawu. She is the Managing Editor of Yada Magazine